Honig Vineyard and Winery is a Napa winemaker that has always seemed to fly under my radar. No longer. I was invited to a meal and tasting of Honig wines at Bailey’s Prime Plus in Dallas this week with owner Michael Honig in attendance. The wines showed Honig wines to be as good as any on the Rutherford Bench. Interestingly, Bailey’s sommelier Jennifer Jaco did not serve the latest bottlings. Rather, she procured older vintages that are almost impossible to find at retail.
Most exclusive of the lots was the 2002 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon, ‘Bartolucci Vineyard,’ ‘Premiere Napa Valley 2004,’ Napa Valley. It is worth deciphering that label. This is a 2002 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon from the Bertolucci Vineyard in the St. Helena region of Napa Valley that was produced exclusively for the Napa Valley wine auction called ‘Premier Napa Valley’ held in 2004. Napa wine producers participate in two wine auctions each year that they call their own: the Napa Valley Wine Auction that my colleague Haley Hamilton reported on here. That auction is the better known of the two and is open to the public. The secret auction is trade only. An exclusive list of only 200 Napa wineries are permitted to auction there, and they sell wines made exclusively for the auction. This Honig wine consisted of only six cases. Five went up for auction and were bought by Centennial in Dallas. In 2011 Centennial sold its fine wine collection, and Jaco swooped to buy some coveted lots, including this one.
Although served with agnolotti pasta, braised lamb, wild mushrooms, and caramelized onions, I tasted the wine on its own. Early on, the nose smelled mainly of wood, but that blew off to release the rich aromas of raspberry jam intermingled with dark fruit. In the mouth, the components of this wine were fully resolved, the result of a full decade of age, and the tannins soft and velvety. There was a slight sweetness as a result of the ripe fruit that had not faded despite the decade of age. The finish lasted almost a minute. This is undoubtedly one of the best aged wines that I have had for several months. It is on the restaurant’s list, but hurry, there are only 13 bottles left. Discriminating collectors will hunt it down as the list price ($300) is lower than some recent auctions.
The other aged wine was a study in stylistic contrast. The 2004 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Bartolucci Vineyard,’ Napa Valley was young, and merited another decade in the bottle. This was largely the result of it having been served from magnums, one-and-a-half liter bottles (twice the regular size), which retard the aging process. Still a good wine, but while the 2002 was at its peak, this one was still developing. Bailey’s Executive Chef Grant Morgan served it with a Japanese Akaushi New York Strip, grilled radicchio, and huckleberry marmalade. This proved to be exactly right to cut the wine’s tannins. The Akaushi beef is so well marbled that, combined with Morgan’s liberal seasoning, this was the classic steak and Cabernet combination at its best. The huckleberry marmalade deserves a shout-out here — it was not too sweet, so it did not wrap the wine in a sugar layer.
Yes, we did have Honig’s Sauvignon Blanc (2010 Honig Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley), a benchmark for the northern California style of Sauvignon Blanc if there was one. It worked well with the scallop starter. But it was a mortal among deities on this stage.
The perfect ending was the 2008 Honig Sauvignon Blanc Late Harvest, Napa Valley, a ringer for a Sauternes with its pungent botrytized nose and tongue-enveloping body. Michael Honig explained that it had not needed the Sémillon grape blended into Sauternes for flavor as Sauvignon Blanc alone in Napa temperatures produced enough flavor and Sémillon tended to reduce the acidity, making for a flabby wine. This wine is only made when nature produces botrytis naturally, so do not look for it at retail stores. Rather go to the web site. We tasted this with rhubarb “sponge” and cream, a not-too-sweet dessert that paired beautifully with the wine. I quizzed Morgan, and he had, indeed, been given samples of the wines when preparing the menu. That important step paid off.
Honig is now well above my radar. Bravo for Bailey’s for the foresight to select such exquisite older vintages. I hope this kind of creativity is a trend in 2012. After four years of recession, it is welcome.